Fully exploring British Columbia’s Vancouver Island takes longer than a weekend. But you can discover the adventurous spirit, rugged landscape and natural beauty of this 12,000 square mile island by visiting just a slice of it. Fly direct from San Francisco to Victoria (the capital) in just over 2 hours. From the Saanich Peninsula (north of Victoria where the airport is located) west to Sooke Harbor and back to Victoria on the southern tip, the island is full of fun, delicious food and drink and friendly people.
The first night, choose the eco-friendly Sooke Harbour House, nestled on the island’s west coast less than an hour from Victoria. This luxury beachfront inn boasts spacious rooms with wood-burning fireplaces, misting showers and soaking tubs – all with private balconies and views of the Juan de Fuca Strait and Olympic Mountains. Local artisan works are plentiful throughout the property and represent the best of the region with masks, carvings, paintings and more. The staff provides the ultimate in service (including rain suits and boots for inclement weather). Unwind and watch the wildlife at your doorstep – deer, bald eagles, sea lion, whales, hummingbirds.
The next night, stay at the magnificent Fairmont Empress Hotel. This stately property, with its 1900s style architecture, is an imposing site in Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Most rooms have a view of the action on the waterfront. Some of the guestrooms retain the old charm and original details while others have been updated after a multimillion dollar renovation. Either way, comfort and service are top notch. With its prime location, the Fairmont Empress is the perfect spot from which to discover Victoria.
Vancouver Island is a year round playground. On the Saanich Peninsula, find rich agricultural land full of independent wine, spirits and fruits and vegetables producers. Visit the stunning Butchart Gardens. These internationally recognized gardens date from 1904 in an abandoned limestone quarry on the estate of Jennie Butchart. Take pleasure in the flowering plants, manicured grounds and scenic vistas.
From here, drive past redwoods and Douglas firs (and free range chicken eggs for sale) to Victoria Spirits, the first artisan gin distillery in British Columbia. A gregarious extended family runs the business and makes their small batch, full-bodied gin in a wood-fired copper pot still. Also look for their Hemp Vodka and soon to be released Whiskey.
Once you hit the coastline (either in Sooke Harbour or Victoria), water sports abound – sea kayaking, boating and windsurfing. Or take an exciting zip line ride at Adrena LINE Zipline Adventure. Zip your way down through the forest – from up to 150 feet off the ground to an exhilarating 1000 feet – over more than 100 acres on eight scenic lines and two suspension bridges.
If you feel safer on the ground, head to East Sooke Regional Park. Whether you follow the rocky coast, cross the rugged hills or head into the rainforest, you’re guaranteed beautiful sightings of the Olympic Mountains and Juan de Fuca Strait, secluded coves and a fantastic hike.
Ft. Victoria was settled by the British in 1843. Since then Victoria has become a cosmopolitan city with a small town feel. It’s the “fittest” city in Canada and one of the most walkable. Create your own route or follow one of the tours that provide glimpses of Victoria’s history, neighborhoods and stunning views. Or jump on a bike and pedal in the regional parks.
Learn about the rich history of British Columbia as you wander through the Royal British Columbia Museum. The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria houses a huge collection of Japanese, Canadian and contemporary art.
Victoria celebrates its 150th anniversary this year with many exciting activities.
Capital District Regional Parks; Farm Information; WineIslandsVintners Association
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb.